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by Katie Pyzyk — December 5, 2016 at 2:55 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Leaf College SavingsThe skyrocketing cost of higher education can make saving and paying for college overwhelming. So you might want to “leaf” the burden to the experts.

Leaf College Savings co-founders Juan Aguilar, Chris Duffus and Josh Bixler set out with the goal of making it easier to save for college. More specifically, they wanted to find an easier way to give the gift of college savings because, as Aguilar says, “it’s a complicated web out there of college savings.”

The collaborators previously had been colleagues at another Arlington business and regrouped a few years after that company sold. Leaf has been around for about three years now and the Rosslyn-based business has nearly 20 employees.

Leaf enables people to purchase an FDIC-insured gift card which transfers money directly into any 529 college savings plan. If the recipient doesn’t have a college savings account, the business will help set one up.

“It’s a gift that says something very special and very specific,” Aguilar says.

Another option Leaf offers is for an employer to allow payroll contributions to go toward a college savings gift, in a similar way to how a 401(k) works.

“That’s the headache we’re solving right now,” says Aguilar. “The gift card is one idea, a payroll deduction… is idea number two.”

Aguilar points out that children are more likely to pursue higher education if they have some savings set aside for it. He says Leaf offers ways to start saving early — for example, by giving one of the gift cards at a baby shower — and all of the contributions will add up over the child’s lifetime.

“We’re not trying to say a gift card will pay for every dime. But we say that every little bit helps and you need to get started somewhere,” he says. “Over time it will grow into something, which is certainly better than not having made a plan or waiting until it’s too late.”

The business continues to evolve and improve based on feedback from customers and research on changes and trends for savings plans. Employees currently are devising a payroll benefits program to help workers pay off their student loans. Leaf is working on the idea with companies interested in using such a benefit as a recruitment and retention incentive.

“The amount of college debt is staggering,” Aguilar says. “Companies love the idea of college savings and helping employees with student loans.”

As a testament to the benefits Leaf provides, Aguilar says he uses the services for his own kids.

“On a personal level, being able to use Leaf myself… it’s good to see the product work and that it really helps people,” he says. “I’m happy that we’re helping people save for college.”

by Katie Pyzyk — November 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The next time you get direct marketing mail don’t be so quick to throw it out without at least taking a look. Consider that Lee Garvey and the employees at Click2Mail may have been the people working hard to get the materials into your mailbox.

Lee Garvey, founder of Click2MailGarvey worked for years at the U.S. Postal Service, starting as a mail carrier in Arlington and moving into other roles, before founding Click2Mail in 2004. His time as a mail carrier exposed him to a lot of local customers who encountered the same problem: They easily could send out a few letters at a time but had difficulty handling large groups of mail.

So Garvey launched a service to make it easier.

“If you’re just mailing five or 10 letters, it’s easy. But when you get into the higher numbers you have to have a system and a postage meter and all that stuff. So I set out to create an online system,” Garvey says. “I’ve experienced the problems we solve for our customers and the way I got started was identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it.”

The small business digitally creates many types of marketing mail, such as when a business sends out hundreds of postcards to advertise a promotion. Click2Mail also can personalize communications so that a car dealer, for example, can send a letter that personally addresses a customer and mentions the type of car the customer recently purchased. Another service is to offer quick turnarounds for “just in time” communications, which tend to be more time sensitive. Garvey says that if a customer submits a digital file by 8 p.m. on a weekday, Click2Mail often can send out personalized notifications as quickly as the next day for a fraction of what such a service used to cost.

“The sender of the postal mail doesn’t have to do anything. They send to us their assets and documents and mailing lists and we take care of the rest,” Garvey says.

Garvey launched Click2Mail while still working at the Postal Service. USPS officially ran it for three years but then decided not to oversee the service anymore. Around that time, Garvey ended up leaving the Postal Service and branched off Click2Mail as a separate entity. The business still partners with USPS, among others, and can be accessed both through its own website and through the Postal Service’s.

Click2Mail employees prepare for a video conferenceClick2Mail has an office in Clarendon and 15 employees who work throughout the United States. Garvey is a huge believer in allowing staff to work remotely at least a couple days a week — even the local employees — and relying on video conferencing for staff collaboration. He says the concept is “one of the benefits of having a largely digital business.”

The Click2Mail team has experienced ups and downs with the fluctuating economy and people’s changing desires to send physical mail, but it currently is in the process of expansion. The business is looking to hire new employees and is revamping its website. Click2Mail has also gained positive exposure thanks recent recognition from Entrepreneur as number 203 on the magazine’s list of the 360 best and most well-rounded small businesses in America.

“We’re very happy with the place where we are and we’re growing,” Garvey says.

Another positive industry trend, Garvey notes, is one that surprises many people: Traditional mail marketing and advertising is back on the rise.

“Businesses that years ago decided that they were going to go all digital and start sending everything by email… they discovered that the level of attention that’s paid to that type of thing is shrinking,” Garvey says. “People are throwing money at the digital world and discovering it’s not as effective as it used to be and the effectiveness of direct mail is increasing.”

Part of that shift may be due to an “everything old is new again” attitude and a “snail mail” revival thanks to millennials. Garvey explains that each year the Postal Service does a household survey and within the last year “they discovered that millennials are very enthusiastic about physical mail.”

But Garvey knows that going about direct mailing completely in an old school fashion isn’t sustainable in the long term. That’s why Click2Mail has continuously updated and modernized its services. It taps into the trend of companies integrating outsourced microservices.

“We have been following closely and adapting our services to that type of model,” Garvey says. “It’s an old thing in a lot of people’s minds, the idea of postal mail. But we’re doing it in a very modern, very technologically savvy way that gives people the opportunity to create mail in a ‘just in time’ fashion that you never could have imagined just a few years ago.”

by Katie Pyzyk — November 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Sometimes business is booming, branding is on point and more customers pour in without prompting. Other times, a business might need an extra punch. That’s where Punch Digital Strategies comes in.

Punch Digital StrategiesIn the crowded field of digital marketing, the creative strategists at Punch aim to set themselves apart by offering clients the “whole package.” Co-Founder and Creative Director Joe DePalma explains that Punch is a boutique agency and competitors in that space often only focus on one thing, such as brand identity or development or design.

“The success stories we have had is when we started to merge the idea of strategy and content with design,” he says. “From a product delivery standpoint we have a unique approach to how we collaborate. Being in control of not only the content but also the design and development, every facet, makes the final project come to life.”

Co-Founder Brian Tillman adds that “clients are often good at knowing their technical content, but not marketing.” That creates a “mismatched user experience and message. We’re trying to fuse those two things,” he says.

The agency consists of writers, designers and developers who focus on producing digital elements — such as websites, mobile apps, videos and downloadable content — to create the “next generation” for each client’s brand identity and message. The digital aspect allows Punch to be browser-based both internally and while interacting with clients.

“Instead of the old way where you’d do a big reveal on a poster board and send versions back and forth and have long email chains where things get lost, we do things in a much more efficient way,” Tillman says. “For clients it’s a lot quicker, more collaborative and more involved. And it helps to reduce errors and miscommunication.”

The Punch Digital Strategies team Even though the business is mostly web-based, the co-founders think it’s important to also have an office presence where the employees can collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other in front of a white board, rather than all employees working remotely. “You’re going to get a better product and the client’s going to see value in that,” DePalma says.

Part of offering high-quality deliverables involves researching and incorporating the most up-to-date digital elements and new media. For example, Punch recently created a virtual reality video that users could access on their mobile phones and view through disposable cardboard VR goggles.

“As people consume things differently our tactical delivery will change,” Tillman says. “The medium is constantly evolving. We have to stay ahead of the curve.”

Plus, Tillman says, having a cache of tech and cybersecurity clients means constantly coming up with compelling ways to present dry material. For instance, the VR project was for a business that makes software, but “making software is boring,” he says. “We needed to figure out a really interesting and immersive and creative way to get people excited about it.”

Tillman and DePalma met while working at another agency and decided to break off to start their own business about two years ago. They now have a 10-person creative team and moved into an office in Shirlington earlier this year. Although launching a startup can be a daunting endeavor — especially because they chose to be self-funded — the Punch co-founders say it was worth taking the risk.

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by Katie Pyzyk — November 7, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

actNOW app prototypeRecently there has been more attention paid to how incidents of sexual assault are handled on college campuses. The team behind actNOW wants to help the victims of those campus assaults easily get access to the resources they need to deal with the frightening, overwhelming issue.

Co-founder Mark Harris says actNOW is a “survivor-centered model to help after an assault has occurred.” Many sexual assault victims are “unfamiliar with how to [report the incident]. There’s a lot of information on websites, but it’s not streamlined,” Harris says. That realization prompted him to look for a way to gather all the information into one place and make it available on a convenient mobile platform.

The web- and app-based service will allow victims of sexual assault to report the incident — either anonymously or with identifying information — to the authorities of their choice. The user enters information about the incident and can choose to inform the university, the campus Title IX office and/or the police.

Users who enter information and then don’t feel like they want to send it can also choose to store the information until they are ready to pass it on to officials. “After an event that is really traumatic, a person may want to wait to come forward,” explains co-founder and certified sexual assault nurse Stacy Garrity.

According to co-founder Lee Reynolds, the actNOW team wanted to “deliver something that’s uactNOW app prototypeseful and impactful” to allow victims to “tell their stories and… know it’s not the end of the road.”

The team members add that this is not a platform for people to put their stories out to the public or media, but rather for victims to report incidents to authorities. But it isn’t only intended to be a reporting platform; the app also will link victims to physical and psychological healthcare providers.

The service makes it less intimidating to report incidents and takes the guesswork out of trying to discover or remember available resources, the co-founders say. Harris stresses that “actNOW is a liaison to the services. We do not provide the actual psychological or physical health services.”

The service started as Harris’ academic project at Georgetown University, and he found Garrity through researching sexual assault resources. Along with Harris’ longtime friend Reynolds, the three officially launched actNOW in March. The Arlington-based business now has six employees.

Much time has been dedicated to researching and initiating appropriate app security measures for both sexual assault victims and the universities where assaults occur. “We have to be mindful of each university’s rules for investigations,” Harris says. In addition, actNOW employees want to make sure strong security measures are in place to ensure the utmost protection for victims’ identifying information and HIPAA privacy.

The actNOW team at a pitch competitionCurrently, actNOW has an app prototype and employees are getting feedback on it from sexual assault victims; so far, the response has been positive. The employees are actively seeking funding and participated in a pitch competition a couple weeks ago. They’re working toward formal app development, which they hope to begin with a tech firm in the next few weeks. If all goes well, they’d like to send the finished app to universities in April 2017 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The goal is to spend the next three years or so maturing actNOW through activities such as receiving focus group feedback and adding additional features to the service. Eventually, employees would like to explore the possibility of expanding the service to the military.

As far as measuring success with the tool, the actNOW team says that’s achieved when people actually use the tool to get help. “It’s really hard for people to report sexual assault,” Garrity says. “So when we start to see usage of the product, I think we’ll see success.”

The team hopes their passion for developing empowerment through technology will help victims both in the short term and down the road, while simultaneously raising awareness about sexual assault.

“We want to put control back in our users’ hands,” Harris says.

by Katie Pyzyk — October 31, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

There’s a well-known phrase claiming that from necessity comes invention. But sometimes it’s more the case of “from annoyance comes invention.” That’s exactly what prompted a local entrepreneur to invent an app to ease lost wanderers’ frustration at the grocery store.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsMinh Tran, of Safety Now Solutions, has created an app called Basket Helper that points users to desired items at a Giant grocery store. It’s not for all Giant stores; very specifically, it’s for the Virginia Square Giant at 3450 Washington Blvd. Right now it’s a pilot that Tran hopes will expand to include other locations.

He took this on as a personal side project, unrelated to Safety Now Solutions’ typical work.

“We usually do public safety software, but this project I made kind of for myself because I was so frustrated with the shopping process,” he says. “Basically when I go to the supermarket I often don’t know where things are. It’s frustrating to walk up and down the store [aisles] staring at the sign that’s above you just to find the right aisle.”

Although some grocery stores have similar apps that show customers which items are in which aisles, Giant does not. Enter Tran and his test pilot.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsThe app functions simply: Users type in the items they want to purchase, hit “search” and the store aisle number appears. The platform is programmed to accept many partial word matches or alternate spellings, so entering “lightbulb” and “light bulb” should both provide the correct aisle. Some brand names also come up with a match.

A unique way Tran envisions the app helping people is when they send someone else on an errand to the store. Users can go onto the website app and “actually send your partner the link” showing all the items’ locations, says Tran. “You can type in the things you need and then copy and paste the search link to your partner and they would know which aisle to go to,” he says. That means no more “I couldn’t find it” excuses from the person who went on the errand.

The pilot launched earlier this month on iOS, Android and a website app. Currently it is independent of the Giant grocery chain, but Tran hopes to change that. He has pitched the app idea to Giant and is waiting to hear if they’ll buy it and expand it to other stores. He’s also considered contacting Safeway, because that chain’s app only allows users to search for one item at a time.

Devising the app itself only took a day or two; what’s been time consuming is entering all the items into the database. But Tran only expects to deal with that for the pilot. Once stores purchase the app, they’ll then enter the information themselves. “You can do it quickly if you have multiple people doing it in multiple aisles,” Tran says. Perhaps, for example, employees could add the items to the database as they restock the shelves.

Keep in mind that this prototype can’t guarantee that every single item in the Virginia Square Giant is listed. But so far it comes pretty darn close; with about 3,000 searchable items, Tran estimates about 75 percent of the store’s items are in the database.

“I thought a tool like this would be helpful,” he says. “I wanted to see if people would embrace the idea.”

by ARLnow.com — October 24, 2016 at 6:20 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Nick Freshman knows what it takes to run a successful restaurant, and he’s hoping to use that knowledge to help restaurateurs and investors alike.

Freshman, 40, co-owns Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon and was also a partner in Eventide Restaurant before it was sold and replaced by Don Tito. All told, he’s been involved in the development of a half dozen successful restaurant concepts.

Nick Freshman on the Mothersauce Partners websiteAfter spending the past 20 years working in and then running restaurants, Freshman is trying something new: he has launched Mothersauce Partners, an investment and advisory business that seeks to connect new food and drink concepts with investors while providing expert advice and key industry connections.

Freshman said Mothersauce — a reference to the foundation of French cuisine — allows him to put his passion into action.

“One thing I really love to do is helping other people who are trying to make it,” Freshman said. “I’ve been doing it as a function of something I like to do. In the past year I’ve explored figuring out a way to make that a business, and I finally decided to take a leap this summer.”

“This is a way for me to be a part of a lot of other interesting concepts without having to actually have to deal with the stress and anxiety of running them,” Freshman continued. “There’s all this great talent and they have lots of great ideas, but they either don’t have the capital or they don’t have the expertise. I can provide both of those… but not have to be the [person answering the] phone call at 3:00 in the morning.”

Freshman, who recently added a beer garden behind Spider Kelly’s but doesn’t otherwise have plans to expand it, said he regularly fields inquiries from investors who want to get in on the next big nightlife or restaurant hit.

“A lot of people I know are asking when is the next Spider Kelly’s, when is the next project,” he said. “And there’s a lot of investment capital moving into the restaurant space now, from giant VC firms to friends and family. It’s getting to be a crowded space, there’s a lot of serious money, so I said okay there’s potential for investors… and there’s a market here.”

Mothersauce already has its first concept: Takoma Beverage Company, a soon-to-open spot for handcrafted coffee and tea in Takoma Park, Maryland, helmed by two veterans of Northside Social, which Freshman says is “one of the greatest success stories in Clarendon.”

Freshman says he has “a lot of leads on other projects” and hopes to have a few more in development by this time next year. He hopes to have a “balanced” portfolio, working with both first-time operators “who have lots of potential” and with experienced restaurateurs who could use his local market expertise.

He’s also equally likely to pursue a restaurant concept that may be suitable for only one or two locations as he is to go after a fast-casual chain — say, the next Sweetgreen — that could someday expand nationwide.

“Part of this is an experiment to see what the deal flow is, what is coming in and what do people most need… where is the opportunity,” Freshman said. “I really think it starts and ends with the operators… you find the great talent, you find the great concept, then you execute on it.”

While Freshman is the main figure in the business, he has a roster of advisors he can call on, depending on project needs. And new restaurant owners need plenty of advice: from negotiating a lease to finding investors to building out a space to marketing the restaurant to responding to online reviews.

The launch of Mothersauce Partners comes at a conspicuous time for the local restaurant industry. By our count, more restaurants have closed than opened in Arlington so far this year while the pipeline of new restaurants has slowed.

Despite some local woes — and success in the restaurant industry is famously difficult to achieve in the first place — Freshman said there’s still plenty of opportunity.

“I think there’s a lot of great concepts that have a lot of potential for growth, and there’s a lot of great investors who want [to be in] this space,” he said. “They want to invest in the restaurant space, but they’re not sure how, and… it’s scary, it’s high-risk. What we do is we say ‘listen, we vetted this concept, we know these guys, we’re going be a part of this project, we’re going help them, come in with us and let’s kind of do this thing together.'”

by Buzz McClain — October 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Jessica GuzikJessica Guzik creates communities. She guides strangers into friendships. She develops business partnerships. She improves regional spirit and helps hone municipal reputations. She provides the missing link between virtual reality and… well, reality.

“Cross pollinating socially, that’s harder and harder to do the older you get,” she said, explaining the inspiration for her incipient upstart, Curated Table. “Your big group of friends start families, people get busy with businesses…”

She doesn’t have to finish the thought: Time is short, everyone’s busy, we all are consumed by our screens and taking care of our spiritual and cultural well-being is an after thought, and our professional lives can suffer for it.

But when those companionship needs are met, nourished by a community-wide shared spirit, good things happen, not just to the individual but to those around them, not to mention their businesses.

Okay, so what does Jessica Guzik do? She’s not a politician, not a psychotherapist, not a health and wellness consultant and she’s not Martha Stewart although that may be who she has the most in common with. But with a twist.

“I design creative events that connect communities,” Guzik said. “That’s the simple explanation of it.”

Guzik organizes small dinner parties or lunches that bring together six to 10 guests — generally community-starved millennials, but other ages have opted in–who perhaps never would have met otherwise and to see what happens. It’s not a singles dating thing or a corporate networking event, although singles and corporations are welcome to ask for her services.

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Afterward Guzik takes key learnings from these conversations and turns them into content in the form of white papers, reports and infographics that can be shared with other stakeholders or potential customers.

Guzik got the idea in 2012 when she put together a team-building lunch for her employer. She was living in Washington at the time and while the event and subsequent events were professional successful and inspirational, she personally was “feeling socially isolated in D.C.,” she said.

A move to WeLive in Crystal City crystalized for her not only her own lifestyle but also what could be done with the Curated Table concept and her other communal event idea, Crystal City Supper Club, in a ready-made, built-in neighborhood that was ripe for connecting.

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by ARLnow.com — October 10, 2016 at 5:45 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

White noise appYou might not think that a smartphone app that plays background sounds to help people sleep could be particularly lucrative or innovative. But then you would be underestimating both the market and the vision behind the app.

TMSoft, a small software company based in Crystal City’s 1776 space, released version 7.0 of “White Noise,” its flagship app, over the summer. The update pushes the app in the direction of being a social network, of sorts, for ambient sound.

White Noise, as we’ve previously reported, was released in 2008, just after the Apple App Store started letting iPhone users easily download third-party apps to their phones.

“When I first started I didn’t think anyone was going to download the thing,” said its creator, Ballston resident Todd Moore. “I just ran around my house with a recorder and recorded eight different loops: a bedroom fan, the outside crickets, rain, my HVAC [system]” and so on.

Thanks in part to media exposure — it was written up in the Washington Post, featured on the Today Show and made fun of by Jimmy Fallon — and a first-mover advantage, it became the No. 1 free app in the App Store. Through in-app advertising and a paid-for “pro” version, it was soon bringing in enough revenue that Moore quit his otherwise lucrative R&D job to focus on apps full time.

“I was making more money in a week than I was making all year at my job, and I said to myself, why don’t I quit and do this full time,” Moore recounts.

White Noise remains popular to this day, with the main app and its variants — including a “White Noise Baby” version for parents that includes a built-in baby monitor — generating the bulk of TMSoft’s revenue. (The company has some popular games and novelty apps in its catalog, but none were sustained smash hits on the scale of White Noise.)

“Putting people to sleep is our bread and butter,” Moore quipped, although White Noise is also used by those who want to use background sounds to help them work or study. “It was definitely the story of an app that bootstrapped a company.”

White noise appThe seventh generation of White Noise doesn’t stray from its original use case, but it does represent the culmination of five years of development toward a much broader vision for the app.

“The goal is to catalog the world’s sounds,” Moore said. “I want every country covered and every sound available.”

Why do that when a simple fan or rainstorm noise will usually suffice? User feedback, Moore said, has made him realize that the most impactful sounds represent a specific time and place in people’s memories.

“People are most comforted by sounds of their childhood,” Moore said. Thanks to user submissions, if someone wants to find a loop of a certain type of frog they heard once upon a time in Bermuda, for instance, there’s a sound for that.

Version 6.0 of White Noise introduced the feature that allows users to record sounds on their phone and, through an algorithm, seamlessly loop the sound so that it can play on repeat without distracting clicks or pops — no small engineering feat.

With version 7.0, users can now upload those sounds — and mash-ups of existing sounds — and download others from a marketplace that can be searched geographically. Users can then “heart” and comment on each other’s sounds.

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by ARLnow.com — October 3, 2016 at 4:45 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Pacers Running may not be a startup, but it is using digital media to connect with customers in an innovative way more akin to a tech startup than a small specialty retailer.

Since April 2015, Pacers has been extending its reach with a podcast called Pace the Nation. While podcasts aren’t new, they have increased in popularity and influence since Serial helped to reinvigorate the format.

Pace the Nation is a weekly running podcast recorded by a trio of Pacers familiar faces: Chris Farley, who co-owns the chain of stores, Joanna Russo, who manages the Navy Yard store in D.C., and William Docs, a former college teammate of Farley. The show often features special guests, from local high school cross country coaches to elite athletes like Matthew Centrowitz, who won Olympic gold in Rio in the 1500 meter.

Pace the Nation recording

Pacers was founded in 1991 in Alexandria, and has since grown to five local stores in the District and Virginia, as well as a location in Princeton, N.J. Russo said the podcast is a way to still maintain a personal relationship with shoppers as the business branches out.

“It started as one family-owned business and it’s grown to five in the area and one in Princeton,” she said. “When you start to get bigger, it helps people still connect with us if we were still that one storefront.”

The podcast, which launched in April 2015, at first had just a handful of listeners – mostly family members and people who were fans of the store – but now regularly gets about 1,000 listeners every week, Farley said.

Docs said that the listeners are his favorite part of the show.

“I think the coolest thing about the whole podcast for me is the community that it’s built. We have some people who never miss an episode, they tweet to us, they come out to social events,” he said.

Many of the show’s listeners are active in the local running community — they who sign up for local 5Ks and marathons, who join running groups and train all year round. One of Pace the Nation’s devoted fans, Annie Hughes, said that she has been listening to the podcast for a little over a year and looks forward to the new episodes every Monday.

“Arlington can often seem big and impersonal, but PTN showcases the vibrant running community here and invites the listeners to be a part of it,” she said. “When Farley and Docs speak about their favorite running trails, I can immediately relate, as I run those trails too.”

(Today’s Pace the Nation episode — No. 74 — features Marine Corps Marathon Race Director Rick Nealis.)

Hughes said she also loves the show’s non-running discussions, including conversations about dogs, books and Uber woes — something to which all locals can relate.

The podcast started as a way to just “spread the gospel of running,” Farley said. Even now that it’s attracted quite a following, Farley said its primary purpose isn’t to increase sales or drive business to the store.

“This really gives us this platform that really tells our brand story,” he said. “It gives a look into our personalities and who we are and I think makes us more relatable. I think when you get more people to relate to you and to like you, they’re more likely to do business with you. But that’s not even the goal of the show, to ring the register. It’s really to truly inspire people to get out and run.”

The Pacers Clarendon store (3100 Clarendon Blvd) will soon include a new studio for the podcast, with a window to the street so passersby can see the podcast hosts in action, according to Farley. He said he chose to base the show in the Arlington store because of the large number of runners in Arlington, and because it’s the place he’s called home for nearly his entire life.

“I think I’m sort of a rare breed in that I actually grew up here and now live here,” he said. “I definitely make that known on the show, that I am very proud of being an Arlingtonian.”

by Andrew Ramonas — September 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Kodikas Coffee (Photo via Facebook/Kodikas Coffee)An Arlington wellness consultant is looking to make life a little less stressful through coffee.

Makoto Fujisaki launched Kodikas Coffee online earlier this month to sell a java that he said can help people better control their stress.

“Coffee is actually a good tool for people managing stress,” said Fujisaki, who runs Resterra Consulting, which helps people with anxiety.

Fujisaki said his coffee is a “relaxation blend” that is “very smooth” with “well-balanced flavor.”

The startup owner said he has worked with a Manassas roaster for more than six months to make the medium roast java, which is all Fujisaki is selling now. A 16-ounce bag of the coffee beans costs $16.50, delivered to customers’ doors.

“I wanted to create a simple solution that people can drink anytime, anywhere to just simply relax and enjoy their time,” he said. “Coffee has been my personal interest for a long time.”

Coffee from Kodikas, which means cozy in Finnish, can help people unwind in three ways, according to the online retailer. The company’s website says the coffee’s components are:

  • Rest: coffee will give you an opportunity to actually have a break,
  • Recreational: brewing can actually be recreational as there is a wide range of methods and equipment you can choose from, and
  • Relaxation: freshly brewed coffee aroma and nice flavor can uplift your mood…throw in your favorite baked goods to make you even happier.

“Excessive stress is harming your health,” the website says. “You know this. But providing a good life for yourself and your family leaves you barely enough time to sleep, let alone relax.”

Feedback from Kodikas customers is mostly positive so far.

One customer said on the company’s Facebook page that she “had two cups this morning and it tasted even better than the aroma while grinding it.” Another customer said the retailer has “great coffee to drink through out the day and not just in the morning. Very tea like.”

Fujisaki said he doesn’t have plans to open a brick-and-mortar location right now. But he hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

A Kodikas Coffee storefront wouldn’t resemble a Starbucks, however. Fujisaki said the store, like his coffee, would focus on stress management.

“It’s a completely different concept from the [traditional] coffee businesses,” he said.

Photo via Facebook/Kodikas Coffee

by Buzz McClain — September 19, 2016 at 4:45 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

It goes without saying the federal government has a lot of data, perhaps an incomprehensible amount of it, and all of it stored away on servers near and far.

Crystal City startup 540 Think of all the contracts, bid proposals, analyses, surveys and every other piece of internal and external business communication Washington receives, creates and keeps over the decades, and you have a gi-normous pile of virtual information. And much of it is in accessible, and therefore, not very useful.

Three-and-a-half years ago John O’Brien, a former government employee with a penchant for building things, decided to create a way that made that digital information accessible, and therefore useful, to government agencies and to companies eager to do business with the government. He started 540, named for the sum of the internal angles of the Pentagon, knowing that his experience within the government and later at a contracting firm could help make dealing with the government successful.

He was right: Just three-and-a-half years later the 18 employees — more than double this time last year — of 540 stay busy at Crystal City’s 1776 startup incubator helping the government and its contractors get things done. In fact, that’s their mantra: #getshitdone.

Crystal City startup 540“That’s really our focus,” said Chris Bock, chief operating officer. “Our mission is to try to help the government lean forward in it’s approach to using technology, especially emerging technology.”

“We have a mission of connecting internal groups across the government by continuing to promote/deliver data sharing strategies,” wrote O’Brien in an email conversation. “Much of this has begun in the ‘government -> public’ realm — but we find it is still behind in the ‘government <-> government’ space.

“We are working hard to ensure that the same approaches and technologies are used to accelerate that data sharing as well.”

The niche 540 is filling is one the federal government is admitting it needs help with: Emerging technology. “We definitely see the government pushing toward modern technology,” Bock said, “and I think the government recognizes that it’s beneficial to them to try to take advantage of what modern technology can bring.”

Crystal City startup 540But because of the age-old labyrinth that impedes progress — you don’t see too many “disruptive” federal tech programs — assistance is required.

“At a deeper level it’s about helping the government unlock it’s data,” Bock said. “Some of it is locked away in a legacy system somewhere. Some of it is stuck in PDF documents or in some other hard-to-get-at format. We’re building capabilities to help the government unlock that data–and to help them do cool things with it.”

To do this, 540 is using tools not uncommon in Silicon Valley, but 540 also builds its own tools, Bock said, “so you access data, see it and understand it.”

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — September 12, 2016 at 5:45 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

(Updated at 6:55 p.m.) A Clarendon startup is aiming to bring healthy, chef-cooked meals to the masses.

Hungry, which has up until now been quiet about its plans, is preparing to formally launch this fall. The company — which has a sunny, open office in MakeOffices Clarendon, above Pacers — can be described as a sort of Uber-for-food.

Hungry iPhone appCurrently, that’s a crowded category with lots of well-funded companies. Except whereas companies like Grubhub deliver food from restaurants, companies like Munchery deliver refrigerated food they produce in large commercial kitchens, and companies like Blue Apron deliver ingredients and meal recipes, Hungry is delivering meals prepared by individual professional chefs in their own commercial kitchens.

Hungry was founded by brothers Shayan and Eman Pahlevani, who previously co-founded Rosslyn-based LiveSafe. With LiveSafe on a solid path to success — a trio of billionaire backers, some $15 million raised, a growing list of clients — Shy and Eman decided to focus their entrepreneurial energies on a new challenge: what to do about lunch and dinner.

The idea came while Shy and Eman were still at LiveSafe. They were tired of the same old lunch options in Rosslyn, and then after a long day at the office they wanted better and healthier meal options for dinner. With a young daughter at home, Shy was particularly inspired. Cooking at home was time-consuming and ordering out often meant high-calorie meals from restaurants. Their idea: leverage the so-called sharing economy to let chefs make extra money on the side while consumers get better meals.

Hungry iPhone appBut Hungry’s appetite for innovation and growth doesn’t stop at individual dishes. The company hopes to be a full-blown food marketplace: its platform can be used by restaurants and chefs to order ingredients from artisan producers, by consumers to hire private chefs for special occasions at affordable prices, and by people or companies seeking food for events — from catered meals to wedding cakes.

(Last week, while ARLnow.com visited its offices, Hungry was preparing to provide food for a private event held by a buzzed-about, Clarendon-based startup media company.)

The company currently has 23 full-time employees, some 80 active chefs, $250,000 in startup capital and Chef Patrice Olivon serving as an advisor, Shy said. Its staff includes drivers — rather than outsource that task, Hungry plans to deliver its own meals, hiring one driver for every five active chefs on the platform.

Shy describes Hungry as a hyperlocal platform that’s focused on a “premium experience” — users can only order from Hungry-approved professional chefs that are within a 10-15 minute drive of the delivery destination, to keep the company’s promise of “authentic, one-of-a-kind fresh-cooked meals, delivered hot.” Users can specify which types of food they’re looking for along with dietary restrictions and preferences.

“Know your chef, know your food,” is another of the company’s credos.

Hungry plans to use content marketing to help attract customers. It’s been producing share-worthy videos, including the kind of short-form cooking videos made famous by BuzzFeed’s Tasty brand, with the hope of reaching consumers through their social media feeds. Targeted ads and email newsletters are also part of the plan, but that’s only half of the marketing battle — chef recruitment is equally important.

(more…)

by Michelle Rosenfeld — August 29, 2016 at 12:00 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Daniel Martin was on a walk in Arlington when he stumbled upon an idea for a new mobile application.

“I was walking around Clarendon — right across the street from the Metro — and I noticed a lamp post had been removed from a sidewalk, and the six-inch bolts that secure it… were left bare on the sidewalk and not covered,” Martin said. “They remained like that for more than two weeks.”

The incident reminded Martin of a time when his younger brother was injured by falling on similar bolts, requiring surgery.

“I realized that there had to be a way to communicate things like this easily to the people responsible, and started thinking about a way to do that.”

OrangeConeMartin developed a no-cost mobile app that enables citizens to communicate any public service issues they encounter with officials responsible for the area where the issue occurs.

He chose the name OrangeCone because it is a symbol for something that is not fully functional, but that has been recognized by someone, and warns people to be careful in the area. Martin is the founder and CEO of 38 North LLC, of which OrangeCone is the first product.

“The overall idea of the app is to notify whatever organization is responsible for that space, and to allow them to respond,” Martin said.

Martin said the company’s primary customers — those who will be on the receiving end of the issue reports — can include city and county governments, federal government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, commercial entities and more. Such groups can use the app to engage citizens as individuals and as a group, locate and visualize issues, and manage those issues to resolution.

Earlier this summer, the OrangeCone app hit the virtual shelves in mobile app stores. Arlington residents and visitors can use the app to report issues they see and to discover issues that have been reported in their area. Issues in Arlington are not yet being managed actively by officials, but Martin said OrangeCone has had ongoing conversations with Arlington County about potentially launching a pilot program.

The company’s first official trial was launched with the Corktown Economic Development Corporation in Detroit. The organization is using the app as the official channel for businesses to report public space issues to the city, Martin said.

Martin is working to recruit more governments for participation in an OrangeCone pilot program. He is in various levels of negotiation with several local governments and plans to conduct pilot programs in coming months.

by Michelle Rosenfeld — August 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

When Arlington real estate agent Kari Klaus decided to renovate her home to make it more energy efficient, she stumbled upon a problem.

Klaus, whose background is in sustainable development, realized that the traditional real estate property listing system doesn’t showcase or market environmentally friendly features for homes, making her house appear similar to others that aren’t energy efficient.

From working in the real estate business, she knew that home buyers care about how eco-friendly their future home will be.

“Wouldn’t you want to know if the home you are thinking of buying has superior systems, a tight building envelope (sealed to prevent air leaks) with solar panels and will save you potentially hundreds of dollars each and every month?” Klaus said.

But there was no understandable and reliable way to rank, search and view energy efficient homes, Klaus said.

That’s where VivaGreenHomes.com comes in.

VivaGreenHomes.com“VivaGreenHomes.com shows you that these options exist and explains their importance to you as a home buyer,” Klaus said. “If a home’s environmental or health value has not won you over, then the potential to save you a lot of money will.”

She said her company changes the game because other real estate listing services aggregate home listings without any verification procedures. VivaGreenHomes.com uses claim verification methods, including a “Home Energy Rating System” score, an industry standard for eco-friendly homes.

A beta version of the site launched in October 2014. Feedback received from industry leaders helped to shape the website before its full launch in May. Just two months after launching the full version, the website has nearly 4,500 active listings, Klaus said.

In the next six months, VivaGreenHomes.com plans to add more user tools, consumer information and other features. Amid those changes, Klaus hopes the number of listings on the site will reach 20,000 in the next year.

Arlington provides all the resources the company needs to continue to grow, she said.

“It’s been incredible to be around so many professionals that work in the sustainability and eco-homes industry,” Klaus said. “It has been a great resource for the company’s growth, including the recruitment of some of our newest team members who live in the D.C. area.”

VivaGreenHomes.com is currently affiliated with 1776 Crystal City, Mentor Capital Network’s Bethesda Green Cohort and Cleantech Open Southeast.

by Michelle Rosenfeld — August 15, 2016 at 2:45 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Cybersecurity breaches cost companies billions of dollars each year, and according to research from IBM Security, the vast majority involve human error. Security training is the best way to combat such errors, but getting employees excited about cybersecurity can be a challenge.

“Like a great many businesses, Ataata was born out of a simple question,” said Michael Madon, CEO of the Arlington company. “After sitting through another series of security awareness training courses for my job, I wondered, ‘Why does security training have to be so long and boring?'”

“I realized that security awareness training doesn’t have to be miserable,” Madon added.

ataataThe name Ataata is a Maori word meaning “video” — and that’s just what the company offers. Ataata’s interactive security awareness videos are available through a data-driven online and mobile platform. The videos work with computers, smart phones and tablets, meeting employees on whatever device they use.

All industries are vulnerable to human error, but Madon said Ataata “is the antidote to human error” because it gives employees incentive to care about cybersecurity.

“Through innovative approaches to increasing employee engagement, Ataata will set the standard for awareness training and dramatically reduce risks of cyber breaches caused by human error while significantly lowering training and clean-up costs,” Madon said. “We do this through employing an interactive, gamified and data-driven training platform offering our clients an analytic engine that transforms engagement data into actionable information — replacing guess work with deep understanding.”

Madon PhotoMadon added, “we believe to maximize engagement, the experience should be compelling, informative, participatory [and] applicable. To that end, Ataata creates and curates interactive videos to boost engagement.”

Ataata users have a 90 percent cybersecurity training completion rate versus 50 percent for traditional cybersecurity training videos, Madon said. In addition, Madon said users are three times as engaged in Ataata videos than traditional videos, with longer view times, increased interactions and more sharing.

Just six months after launching, Ataata announced in late June that it closed its series seed preferred founding round led by ARRA Capital with participation from additional investors. Moving forward, the company plans to use funds to drive ongoing creative and technology development and bring its “best-in-class” proprietary content and software to market.

And how did Ataata end up in Arlington? “Arlington chose me,” Madon said. 

Madon was a founding member of Crystal City-based 1776, a global incubator and seed fund. He was looking for a space outside the District with a more cyber focus, and Arlington was an obvious choice.

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